Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Best Picture: "12 Years a Slave," 2013

Movie Stats:
Released 2013 (USA)
American & British, in English
Director - Steve McQueen
Stars - Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael Fassbender, and many others you’ll recognize

Plot Summary:
Based on a true story. In 1840s America, when freedman Solomon Northrup (Ejiofor) is kidnapped and sold into slavery, it takes him twelve years to find a way home. Nyong’o co-stars as Patsey, a fellow slave, and Fassbender as Edwin Epps, Solomon’s second slave owner.

Blue language, including liberal use of the n-word; both female and male nudity (full frontal for one female); non-graphic sexy times; rape; and extreme violence.

Bad Stuff:
With a few notable exceptions (Solomon; Patsey; Master Ford, played by Benedict Cumberbatch), I felt that many of the characters were a bit one-dimensional.

I thought the beginning was a little confusing (although I was perhaps not paying close attention at first).

Good Stuff:
Some really great performances. Both Ejiofor and Nyong’o were amazing. I was also really impressed with Fassbender, who played someone really different than other roles I’ve seen him in. He was thoroughly chilling as the unstable Epps.

It covers a topic that I think is really important for Americans to learn more about. Slavery may have been abolished some 150 years ago, but it’s still an integral, and dark, part of our history. It’s still relevant. Even I, someone who is very interested in history, don’t think I knew that they used to kidnap northern freedmen and drag them to the south to be slaves. Movies that show me something I didn’t already know are among my favorite.

The Verdict:
First, a hopefully amusing anecdote. A few weeks ago, I thought to myself, “I better put ‘12 Years a Slave’ on hold at the library because it’s probably popular and it’ll take me a while to get it.” So I went online to the library’s website, only to discover that there were already 108 holds on 26 copies of the movie. Therefore, in order to finish this project before next year, I rented it from iTunes. That’s a singular distinction. I saw the vast majority of these movies by borrowing them from the public library, a handful via Netflix, and a few from my personal collection.

This is one of those movies that you watch not because you particularly want to but because it’s important to. It’s not an easy watch. That’s not just because I don’t enjoy watching people being tortured. It’s because it’s very difficult to accept that people can be this awful to one another. It’s also very difficult to accept that our country was built on the kinds of things that happen in this film. It’s heartbreaking.

The movie was exactly as sickening as I expected it to be. I spent a lot time crying because of it. However, that doesn’t mean I think it was bad. Quite the opposite. The fact that it could make me feel so strongly means that it's a good film. I empathized with, and agonized for, the people who were mistreated here.

You should watch this film. Don’t expect to have a good time while doing so, but you should still do it. 

I give it 4 stars.


Patricia said...

It's that push pull of really uncomfortable/ultimately good for you that I get frustrated at. Especially if I've done the really uncomfortable work of watching the movie and am enthusiastically recommending it to someone and they wrinkle their nose and say, "looks too depressing."

That said, I haven't yet watched this. But I want to! I think the hold situation will have died down by the end of the year and I can get it from the library then.

balyien said...

I think you would like it, but you're smart to wait until the end of the year. I'm sure it's very popular at your library right now too.

I definitely understand the impulse to avoid depressing movies. The older I've gotten, the more interested I am in pure entertainment. I probably never would have watched this film if not for this project.

I'm re-evaluating that though. I'd like to start putting more pressure on myself to watch good movies no matter how difficult they are.